My Favorite Writing Books


A wise woman once told me, sometimes you eat the bear. Sometimes, the bear eats you.

This week, I am being eaten, bite by scrumptious bite, by the bear. So please forgive this rather truncated post.

Earlier this week I was asked what my favorite writing books are. I have several, books that influenced me, books that I read over and over, books I think are vital to the writer's process, and to the craft itself. Here are some of my favorites: (click on the link for more suggestions)

On Writing - Stephen King

The gold standard. When I'm approached by writers who are just getting their start, this is the book I send them to first. I tell them, if it speaks to you, you're a writer. If it doesn't, you may want to think about another path. I didn't read this until 2006, and it was like lightning struck my brain.

Write Away - Elizabeth George

Should the previous book speak to you, this is the next on the list. A perfect nuts to bolts book that gives tips on everything from building story to defining characters and outlining. 

Forest For The Trees - Betsy Lerner

The first writing book I ever read. It changed me in many ways, and showed me the path that I eventually found myself on. Well worth it.

The War of Art – Steven Pressfield

This one is for anyone who wants to be a creative - for that matter, anyone with dreams unfulfilled should read Pressfield's little gem. You hear me talk about resistance a lot. Here's the book I got that from. It's a hugely important book, and one I strongly recommend.

P.S. You will see a consistent path from here on out. Interestingly, books about craft aren't as important to me as books about process.

The Creative Habit – Twyla Tharp

I loved this one from dancer/choreographer Twyla Tharp. It's a great book about creating good habits, organization, and other lovely bits. Some of it I already did, and some I added into my routine. Most important rule of all - build your habits, then stick to them.

Bird by Bird - Anne Lamott

The definitive guide to the writing life, by a woman who's both acerbically funny and poignantly truthful. 

Hamlet's Blackberry - William Powers

A superb book about the history of communication and the ways modern technologies change the world. Also awesome for its tips on ways to unplug from the grid. My favorite of all the productivity books I've read.

The Artist's Way - Julia Cameron 

A little honesty for you. Once the excitement of the debut year is over and the reality of being a working writer sets in, that's when the voices start. External and internal, from reviews and reader emails to editor and agent inputs, everything starts changing. Sales goes up and down, proposals are loved and changed, or hated and revamped. The vacuum we start in, writing a little book in our spare time, mostly for ourselves, to see if we can do it, suddenly turns into the machine that controls your life. it's very easy to get thrown off track when things aren't going perfectly. And this is publishing, folks. Trust me when I say, things NEVER go perfectly. For anyone. So when the going gets tough, the tough do THE ARTIST'S WAY. It changed my world, and I'm sure it will change yours too. But it doesn't work unless you're at a certain point. Heck, it doesn't even apply until you're at a certain point. 

The Writer's Journey - Christopher Vogler

I shouldn't call this one of my favorites, because truth be told, I hated it. I've always just written from my gut, and didn't realize that I was following a pattern that had been developed practically since the first people got together under the stars and told tales of their day chasing mastodons. I adore mythology, and somewhere along the way I think I got a sense of story from that. But realizing it wasn't my own method ticked me off royally, and then I started thinking in Vogler's terms, and suddenly, everything was about the three acts, and the Hero's Journey, and it wrecked me for a couple of years. So don't read it. (But if you do, it's a fantastic journey, and it will help you identify the areas of your story that might be sagging. But you'll never watch a movie the same way again. So you've been warned.)

That should be enough to get you started.

Want to share some of your favorites in the comments? I'd love to hear what you like, too!